Recovery phase: infrastructure reconstruction29.09.2020
Reconstruction of the telecommunications infrastructure should follow soon after the disaster, and should consider rebuilding more resilient telecommunication/ICT network infrastructure and include potential redundant network deployments wherever possible to prepare for future disasters. Government and the private sector should also take advantage of the opportunity to rebuild relevant telecommunication/ICT infrastructure, and where possible, to deploy technologies that are more resilient, efficient, and less expensive (ITU 2020).
For post-disaster needs assessments, there is a guide oriented to costing replacements for damaged telecommunications equipment and infrastructure (PDNA 2014). Also, reconstruction might present many opportunities for improvement. For instance:
Weaknesses exposed in the infrastructure could justify moving or reinforcing buildings or introducing extra backbone routes. They could involve replacing aerial cable by buried cable (or the reverse): buried cable tolerates winds and abrupt temperature changes but makes faults slow to locate and repair.
The economic and social priorities for reconstruction are often different from the priorities during original, pre-disaster construction. In particular, people may have moved permanently because of the disaster and/or growth in the use of telecommunications might have reduced the importance of transport for time-consuming journeys to markets and workplaces.
The technical and commercial priorities for reconstruction could be different from those for the original construction. For example, data will no longer be carried over, or alongside, voice; instead voice will be carried over data. New technologies might have come to the fore. These could change how telecommunications are best implemented.
The regulator needs to monitor the improvements so that the infrastructure is “built back better.” In particular, the infrastructure as a whole (though not necessarily the network of any individual operator) needs to be resilient enough to deal with the next disaster and arrangements for coordination need to be put in place and practised.
In reconstructing their networks, operators can take the opportunity to ensure that they can conveniently monitor and control network nodes and supervise sensors. In particular, they might install sensors in outside plants, for reporting properties like temperature and humidity and informing employees about urgent priorities. In utility sectors other than telecommunications, such as electricity and water, they might also stimulate actuators.
With effective monitoring and control, operators can create “digital twins” of their networks, which model the physical networks in enough detail to allow fully accurate simulations of various circumstances (including disasters). Digital twins necessarily require large data processing capacity, often with machine learning, and in effect access to cloud computing. They are still experimental; as accounts of their progress demonstrate (Oughton 2018). Once they are mature, they could still need experts to deploy them effectively, even if (as is sometimes suggested) their user interfaces will exploit virtual or augmented reality.
ITU (International Telecommunication Union). 2020. ITU Guidelines for National Emergency Telecommunication Plans. Geneva: ITU. https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Emergency-Telecommunications/Documents/2020/NETP-guidelines.pdf.
Oughton, E. 2018. “Building a Digital Twin: Testing the Effectiveness of Telecommunication Policies in a Virtual World.” TPRC 46: The 46th Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy 2018. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3141527.
PDNA. 2014. Post-Disaster Needs Assessment Guidelines Volume B: Telecommunications. https://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/Climate%20and%20Disaster%20Resilience/PDNA/Volume%20B/English/PDNA_Telecommunication_FINAL.pdf.Last updated on: 19.01.2022